According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, there are over 80 identified autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the body attacks healthy cells and tissue, mistakenly thinking they are infections or unhealthy cells. Autoimmune diseases and disorders are diagnosed in high numbers, and increasing each year. Women are diagnosed more often than men. The most common forms of autoimmune diseases are Graves' disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease not frequently heard of in the media. According to the Mayo Clinic, Graves' disease is the most frequently diagnosed form of hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by overactivity in the thyroid. In Graves', the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to produce high levels of thyroxine, a hormone that affects your metabolism. Individuals with Graves' may have a number of symptoms and bodily changes, such as enlarged or irritated eyes, weight loss, and frequent urination.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, there are over 1.5 million people living with lupus. Lupus is different from other autoimmune diseases in that it doesn't have a specific area or organ of the body it attacks. In one person lupus may affect the skin, while in another it affects the joints. Lupus does not show up in the same way for each person, and is known by its "flares"--periods of disease activity when the affected area of the body is in pain, causing you to feel sick.
Just like lupus, multiple sclerosis, or MS, affects each diagnosed person differently. The one constant in every diagnosis is the nervous system is attacked. What that means is a woman with MS may have her optic nerve affected, while a man with MS may have the spinal cord attacked and lose use of his limbs. Each nerve is wrapped in myelin--a sheath that protects the nerves from damage, or overexposure. In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin, causing the nerve to be exposed and unable to properly receive signals from the brain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed as an autoimmune disease that affects the joints' lining called the synovium, causing chronic inflammation and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis is similar to multiple sclerosis in that it is debilitating and interferes with normal daily activities. In rheumatoid arthritis, rapid cell division causes the lining of the joints to become thick and inflamed. As a result, the joints no longer work properly and become disfigured.